Former DICE chief and EA Studios president Patrick Söderlund knows that Battlefield 4’s release didn’t go as well as it might. “There have been some issues,” he said. “I think we’ve done a good job rectifying some of them and we’ll work around the clock do do the rest.”
He agreed that players should expect “base functionality” from a game at launch – but suggested that nothing could be done before release to simulate the effects of a ton of players descending on its systems all at once.
Söderlund pointed to Rockstar’s struggle with GTA Online, which saw the publisher “surprised by the sheer load” of players attempting to squeeze through the door once they’d opened it.
“And I bet you they tested everything, I bet they were nervous but felt pretty confident,” said Söderlund in a Guardian interview. “But then scale does so much to your systems. The number one reason for things going wrong is scale.”
“We do a lot of testing and load balancing, we do everything we can,” he went on, “but my personal experience tells me there’s no such thing, at this point at least, that can emulate real physical load.
“It’s so hard to simulate that because there are so many different user cases that you can’t simulate in a test environment.”
That said, Söderlund admitted that EA as a company need to do a “better job” of getting their digital pigs to market as bug-free as possible. In mitigation, he said that all of their games are becoming “more and more complex”.
“Even though we’ll run a beta and we’ll do massive amounts of testing, there are certain things, especially in an online-focused environment, that you won’t catch,” he said. “I wish I could say that we will, but I don’t think we’ll ever catch everything. I think we’ve got better at it, but I certainly think we’re not where we need to be in terms of getting games to market that offer a friction-free experience.”
Söderlund was thankful for players’ patience while DICE worked to “course-correct” in the wake of Battlefield 4’s launch.
“I think if there are two people screaming at you out of a thousand, you can ask for patience, but if there are 500 out of 1,000, you’ve got to change something, right? You’ve got a problem.”
Söderlund’s willingness to do better is laudable, but his despair in the face of bugs is, I’m afraid, laughable while DICE are running betas based on weeks-old stable code rather than using them for what they are – testing grounds. If the Battlefield 4 launch cock up says anything beyond an indecipherable gasp of exhaustion, it’s that no developer can afford to treat betas as pre-order bonuses.
What do you lot make of this?